Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Ray Cook / Raynham
This post comes with a warning. Some of what follows I have not been able to verify and I don’t want to be accused of being another purveyor of inaccuracies on the interweb. The reason I have updated this is because Ray Cook is the most often accessed entry on my blog. If I have got it wrong, please tell me, but since so little is available about him, here goes……….
If you have ever seen a ramekin in a second hand or opportunity shop, the chances are that it was by Ray Cook, or more accurately from the Ray Cook Pottery, although Ray was a businessman and never made a pot in his life. He started a pottery at 938 North Road East Bentleigh Victoria in 1948 when the area was being opened up to post WWII couples producing the baby boom. They were one of Australia’s best known and highest selling pottery brands of the 1950s and 60s. He must have made thousands of them. Ramekins that is, not babies.
Raynham Harry Cook was born on the 15th April 1902 in Bellett Street Camberwell, Victoria to Frederick James and Adeliza Cook. Ray later lived at 24 Judd Street Camberwell. He married Elizabeth Veronica (Pryke) b 1902. The Cooks’ later moved to 218 Murrumbeena Road Carnegie. Although the Electoral Rolls show him as a Clerk, he is listed as a Company Director when his father’s will was listed for probate.
Being too old for active service, on the 31st March 1942 he enlisted in 3 Batallion Volunteer Defence Corp. He was discharged 21st August 1944. This was a "Dad`s Army" of men who, while not allowed to go to war because of their age, provided Essential Services for the Government. They were very serious in their endeavors to protect their families and the local area. They were part of the defence forces during WW 2, wore uniforms and trained in various aspects of warfare.
Ray Cook set up the Ray Cook Pottery in 1948 and later in 1950 set up Raynham Ceramic Pty Ltd. Why did he set up as a limited company? Don’t think that there were two places. It was done for good business reasons. As a sole trader or as a non-limited business, his personal assets were at risk in the event of failure of the business, but this was not the case for a limited company. As long as his business was operated legally, directors' or shareholders' personal assets were not at risk in the event of a winding up or receivership. It is a common business practice.
The company was later named "Raynham" after his first name, and produced all sorts of lightweight slipware speckled and later lustreware vases. Being a typical accountant, everything was done on the cheap. The pottery wheel where the hand throwing was done was supposedly powered by the electric motor from a cement mixer. The building was allegedly not even equipped with a toilet. Not unusual for the times but Health and Safety people would not look kindly on it these days.
In the mid 1960s business was booming and Ray set up a second pottery at 237 East Boundary Road East Bentleigh, Victoria. He also operated another pottery in Carey Street East Bentleigh, sharing it with Guy Boyd who had returned from overseas. In the late 1950s, Guy also had his works at Crosbie Park Avenue in East Bentleigh after his return from Sydney, Guy opened a retail outlet shop at 247 Bridge Road Richmond. In the mid 1960s Guy operated from the Ray Cook premises in Carey Street, East Bentleigh. In 1965 Guy went into full-time sculpting and sold out to Ray. All sorts of pottery was produced at Raynham, including vases, coffee sets and ramekins by the thousands. In 1971, Ray was approaching 70 and sold his companies and the rights to the Guy Boyd ramekin designs to Bendigo Pottery.
Many Australian potters at one time worked at Ray Cook, such as Robert A. Schulze who graduated from RMIT in 1969 and, worked there in 1970 just before their sale to Bendigo; Bruce Anderson graduated with a Diploma of Art, (Sulpture), from the Prahran College of Technology in 1971. In 1972 and 1973 also worked at Raynham.
Paul Scholes' in his book on Bendigo Pottery says that their expansion program was set back after 1971 because most of the workers in the two factories were women, and the Australian government had, in 1972 passed equal pay legislation. With that and the lowering of import tariffs in 1973 and the subsequent flood of imports, (up 30% that year) the potteries suddenly weren’t quite so profitable. Being an astute businessman, Ray had got out just in time.
Bendigo Pottery continued to use the "Raynham" brand for a short time. They made them to the same pattern but with different colours and a slightly wider base but without a signature. The Ray Cook Pottery has been long demolished; the original site is now located next to the Ritz Ballroom. Ray died on the 25th of September 1989 at age 87 and was cremated on the 29th at the Springvale Botanical Cemetery in Victoria.